Most of us can empathize with those who experience back trouble. Stiff backs, back spasms, trouble sleeping, and all the rest of the aches and pains associated with advancing age.
But we don’t usually think of back problems sidelining a thoroughbred and keeping him from training.
When thoroughbreds can’t properly train they lose their conditioning. And when they lose their endurance and conditioning they aren’t going to be running off with any Grade I stakes laurels.
It was in 2001 that a California-based four-year-old named Tiznow should have been in training for defense of his 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic win. The year began well enough. Tiznow won both the San Fernando and the Santa Anita Handicap. After his stirring stretch duel with Ireland’s Giants Causeway in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic, his competitive heart and will to win were being further recognized as the next racing season unfolded and moved along.
But trouble has a way of finding paradise. And back problems visited Tiznow in much the same way they find people on the far side of 45. The stylish dark brown colt was unable to properly train. With no firm date set for his return to training, a defense of his Breeders’ Cup Classic championship looked less and less likely.
Several months slinked on by. Finally, with the most qualified veterinarians paid in full for their services, Tiznow was allowed to begin a training schedule.
Trainer Jay Robbins placed him in the stern test of the Woodward Stakes. And he finished a respectable third, but did nothing to have anybody believe he was keen and ready for another Breeders’ Cup afternoon of racing at Belmont Park.
His next try at proving he was as fit as need be for the Breeders’ Cup was in the Goodwood where he was third again.
There was no time left for actual on-track tightening against racing competition. Tiznow would either be kept from defending his championship . . . or he would go in with his third-place finishes in his last two races.
Against the large field in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Tiznow and jockey Chris McCarron were given the respect due their previous championship, but many just nodded their way or politely tipped their hat and went back to considering more serious challengers to Tiznow’s throne.
When the starter loosed the thoroughbreds from the starting gate for the 1 1/4 “Classic”, it was McCarron in his easy-to-follow pink silks bringing Tiznow to a forward position and giving him a snug, third-place position just behind the rapidly moving pace setters.
After a brisk half-mile, there were McCarron and Tiznow still a close-up third. Just behind them was Sakhee, a European horse whose career had been spent running on grass . . . and spent well at that because he had won that year’s esteemed Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Turning for home, it was Tiznow with the lead. With a quarter-mile to run, the Californian was joined by Sakhee.
Sakhee had made a contending move very quickly. From yards behind, he came alongside Tiznow.
Would the months away from training have compromised Tiznow? He had only managed a pair of thirds in his last two races. And those efforts were against competitors of less quality than Sakhee and the others.
Tiznow showed his determination. He held off Sakhee. Held him off by a scant head. A thoroughbred’s heart and spirit had been more important than a shortened term of preparation.
Back problems had not kept him from doing what no others had ever accomplished. Those with knowledge of Tiznow’s physical troubles probably were rooting for him realizing their own back problems would never allow them to accomplish something similar.
After his first Breeders’ Cup Classic win, Tiznow was the Eclipse Award winner of Horse of the Year honors. After his second “Classic” success, he was selected as the Eclipse’s Champion Older Male for 2001.
Tiznow had become the first thoroughbred to win two Breeders’ Cup Classics. It’s now 11 years later and he is still the only one to win the race twice.
After his pulse-pounding stretch runs to wins in back-to-back “Classics”, Tiznow was retired from racing and today stands at WinStar Farm just outside Lexington.
The history of his two years of on-track races show him with eight wins in 15 career tries. He was second four times and had a pair of third-place finishes. His winnings amounted to $6,427,830 with the “Classics” victories accounting for most of those earnings.
Tiznow has become a much-sought-after stud. His fee is $75,000 for a live foal that stands and nurses. He is a direct line descendant of the fabled Man o’ War.
His sons and daughters draw as much attention at auction sales as any sire today. In 2006, his two-year-olds went for between $350,000 and $500,000. His yearlings were auctioned for between $200,000 and $300,000. Mares in foal to him sold for between $300,000 and $1,600,000.
He has been one of the Top Five leading sires for five consecutive years. His progeny have earned $41 million, and he has sired 40 stakes champions. Tiznow was the No. 1 sire of thoroughbreds nominated for this year’s Triple Crown series with 12.
All that proven on-track and off-track history from a thoroughbred that is now 15 years old . . . and has history of back problems.